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New study reveals digital exclusion hinders rural women’s work in the Caribbean

Jeber Barreto Venezuela
New study reveals digital exclusion hinders rural women's work in the Caribbean

WASHINGTON, United States (CMC) — A new study has revealed that, in most Latin American and Caribbean countries, rural women are the group that is least connected to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), hindering their work. The study was carried out by the University of Oxford, with support from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

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According to the study, “Digital Rural Gender Divide in Latin America and the Caribbean” — overseen by Italian social scientist Valentina Rotondi — based on data from the Gallup World Poll, information on the countries and digital trace data from Facebook, in 17 out of the 23 countries analysed, women are less likely to report to own a mobile phone compared to their male counterparts.

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The study stated that low-educated women living in rural areas are also the least “connected” group, while fewer women than men report owning a mobile phone, the study says this varies between rural and urban areas.

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Characteristics such as gender and household location of residence interact with each other, producing multiple layers of disadvantage for women living in rural areas, the study said

The Washington-based IDB said the topic of the study is particularly relevant amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, “which has accelerated changes in production methods and marketing networks for all types of products, such as food and other goods supplied by rural areas”

The IDB said contributing to reversing the inequality faced by rural women and facilitating access to technology for those involved in agricultural production are two of the main challenges that it, the IICA and the IFAD have “committed to addressing”

“The study reveals that reduced access to mobile phones and the Internet is yet another issue faced by rural women, who must overcome greater obstacles to secure funding, receive training, access formal employment opportunities and own land,” said IICA Director General Manuel Otero

In his first speech as the new president of the IDB, Mauricio Claver-Carone said that the multilateral funding institution “must spearhead efforts to expand opportunities for employment through digitalisation in the region”, adding that the agency should “be at the forefront of efforts to expand connectivity in rural areas and to increase its use in education, small businesses, banking, and financing”

The head of IFAD, Gilbert F Houngbo, underscored the revolutionary role that mobile phones can play in reducing poverty and hunger, as well as in bridging the gender divide in rural areas

He said “rural women continue to be marginalised”

“Digital connectivity, through mobile phones, is critical to empowering these women, by granting them access to markets, information and financial services, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Houngbo added. “Lack of equitable access to mobile phones threatens to intensify the inequalities already suffered by rural women

The IDB pointed to annual data from the Gallup Poll, which reveals that mobile-phone ownership has increased from about 45 per cent in 2006 to about 80 percent in 2017

“The digital gender gap in mobile-phone ownership has narrowed over the past decade, yet with an apparent worsening over the past five years,” the IDB said

“According to the latest report released by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in most countries of the world women are still trailing men in benefiting from the transformational power of digital technologies: over half the total global female population (52 per cent) is still not using the Internet, compared to 42 per cent of all men,” added Rotondi, who analysed data from the Gallup World Poll (2017) related to information provided by mobile phones

The IDB said the study explores the correlation between gender gaps in mobile phone adoption and three measures of women’s empowerment utilised by the International Labor Organization (ILO), namely the ratio of female to male vulnerable employment rate, the ratio of female to male labour-force participation rate, and the ratio of female to male youth unemployment (measured in 2019)

The IDB said Facebook was selected because “it is the most popular social networking site in the region”

The results show that, relative to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, male and female Facebook penetration rates in the region are quite balanced, although there are some differences

While in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Suriname, Uruguay and Paraguay, women are more likely to be Facebook users than men, in others, including Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala, men are slightly more active on Facebook, the study says

The IDB said the research study focuses on the first-level digital gender divide, which is the divide related to accessing ICTs, and highlights the need to conduct further research on the second-level divide, which relates to the skills required to better capitalise on these technologies

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